Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

India–Japan embrace should stretch out to Eurasia

Reading Time: 4 mins
Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister, and Shinzo Abe, Japan's Prime Minister, shake hands during a joint news conference at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 29 October 2018 (Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via Reuters).

In Brief

No other partnership has witnessed the kind of unprecedented progress that the India–Japan partnership has over the last two decades. The new India–Japan Vision Statement — a product of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo to meet his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe from 28–29 October 2018 — reiterates the two leaders’ commitment to work together in the Indo-Pacific and the world at large.


  • A
  • A
  • A


  • A
  • A
  • A

Countries like Australia and the United States draw a link between India–Japan ties and the evolving Indo-Pacific concept. This articulation of the India–Japan relationship is maritime-centric and focusses on the two countries’ role in the maintenance of a ‘free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific’. To strengthen the global character of India–Japan relations, a Eurasian framework should be pursued in parallel to an Indo-Pacific one.

Economic cooperation in Eurasia is a viable proposition that India and Japan should explore in developing their ‘global’ partnership. Such a partnership must be driven by the two countries’ shared strategic and economic imperatives. Balancing China’s influence in Central Asia and Europe — arising from its Eurasian leg of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) — could be one such strategic motive.

China may hold significant influence in Central Asia, but India–Japan collaboration in the region could tilt the strategic balance and provide Central Asian states with more room to manoeuvre. And while Russia may appear to be supportive of the SREB, it is apprehensive of Beijing dominating the region. Notably, Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union is looking for new partnerships — an opportunity that both Japan and India should capitalise on.

To construct a Eurasia-specific framework, India–Japan cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and Europe will be required. To accomplish this, Tokyo could revisit former prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s ‘Eurasian diplomacy’ policy of the 1990s. Hashimoto’s goal was to give Japan a dynamic regional foothold to enable strategic options vis-a-vis its relationships with China and the United States.

Hashimoto’s ‘Eurasian diplomacy’ may not have drawn Japan much economic applause, but it did go some way towards convincing Moscow to partner with Tokyo despite the two countries’ ongoing territorial disputes. Abe must revisit this policy and rekindle a relationship with the Eurasian region, this time with New Delhi at Tokyo’s side.

New Delhi’s past outreach in Central Asia — where China, Japan, the United States, the European Union (EU) and Russia have emerged as the main players in the post-Soviet period — is comparatively insignificant. India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy, initiated in 2012, aims to reposition its interests through political and economic outreach to Central Asia and Russia.

India and Russia’s relationship is not currently at its strongest. Still, New Delhi has not distanced itself from engaging bilaterally and multilaterally with Moscow. India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was largely possible due to Russia’s resolute support, which China could not dismiss. While the Russia–India–China trilateral strengthens India’s Eurasian legacy, a framework like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) enriches India’s multilateral cooperation with both Russia and China.

Beijing is taking over the ‘Silk Road Diplomacy’ that was envisioned by Hashimoto. Cooperation with Central Asian countries is a core pillar of the SREB. India and Japan could attempt to balance China’s outreach by strengthening India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy and reviving Japan’s ‘Silk Road Diplomacy’.

The latter’s revival could build off Japan’s ‘Central Asia plus Japan’ policy advancement that was introduced in 2004 under then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Japan’s approach to Central Asia under this policy is government-driven and focusses on development assistance. Tokyo’s desire to play a constructive role in the region would be enhanced through third-country cooperation with India in the Central Asian states, both public- and private-sector initiated. This effort would be commensurate with Japan’s well-known global economic diplomacy.

Above all, India–Japan relations need to be rationalised beyond the US-led Indo-Pacific framework. The US–China trade war should propel them to search for new avenues of global cooperation. Europe could be the answer despite its hitherto China-centric approach to Asia.

The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 has encouraged the EU to view Asia through a new prism. Japan and the EU’s Strategic Partnership Agreement and Economic Partnership Agreement have deepened bilateral ties, and India’s relationship with the EU is also changing from one of donor–recipient to a ‘partnership of opportunities’.

An India–Japan–EU trilateral framework could provide new momentum for cooperation. Both India and Japan already share a common platform with the EU in ASEAN and other multilateral organisations to promote a rules-based, fair and democratic international order. A partnership within the Eurasian framework would certainly strengthen this further and influence the global balance of power.

Jagannath Panda is a Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator for East Asia at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He is also the Series Editor for Routledge Studies on Think Asia.

Comments are closed.

Support Quality Analysis

The East Asia Forum office is based in Australia and EAF acknowledges the First Peoples of this land — in Canberra the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people — and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.

Article printed from East Asia Forum (

Copyright ©2024 East Asia Forum. All rights reserved.